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An Adult Learner Reflects on Technology in Higher Education

Adult Learners and Students with Children
May 10, 2018 Elizabeth Cox

As a non-traditional adult undergraduate student and later as a graduate degree student, I have had the opportunity to adopt some terrific technological tools. I grew up before the advent of the Internet, smartphones, and social media. Consequently, I have found myself labeled a ‘digital immigrant’. I enjoy that label - I have embraced technological innovations with glee. My smartphone and laptop are liberating tools that make my course work fun. I see social media platforms as auspicious communication and collaboration tools.

Being an online graduate student has been a great experience. I truly enjoy virtual access to my university library and the options to read and work on research papers anywhere on any of my devices. When I decided to complete my college degree as an adult learner, I found my learning opportunities immensely expanded because of technological advances that had emerged during the time when I was not in school.

I have used several different learning management systems (LMSs) over the course of on-campus undergrad studies and later in online graduate degree work. The system I have used most is the popular Blackboard system. My favorite lesser-known LMS is CourseNetworking (www.thecn.com). CN is a system that resembles a social media platform and supports all types of higher education class activities. The platform offers tools for interaction between students in a virtual class as well as innovative ways for instructors to engage online learners. Class discussions, surveys, group projects, and assignment submissions are framed in the context of visually engaging colorful graphics and user interface. I am a proponent of integrating social media functions into curriculums.

Recently, I discovered Flipgrid and Padlet - two fun and engaging platforms that can be utilized for class work and connected to Blackboard and other LMSs. These are secure
collaboration and feedback platforms that instructors may utilize for informal assessments and to encourage team work.

Flipgrid can mimic Snapchat in an educational setting and can even be set up to connect with the real Snapchat platform so students can upload posts and share ideas in real time. Padlet is a private platform that offers an interface like Twitter or Pinterest and can be tailored to various content areas and teaching strategies. Students may also opt to use Padlet individually as a note taking tool, as a tool to collect data for a research assignment, or to create a study guide when preparing for exams. When fun activities made possible by technology are integrated into the learning process, an enhanced level of class energy and engagement results.

For group project assignments in my undergrad and graduate courses, GoToMeeting and mind-mapping app Coggle have been invaluable. My groups have worked on shared Google Docs with content added by each group member in real time. I have collaborated on projects with my group members who reside in geographical locations all over the U.S. and abroad. We have created videos, marketing presentations, management projects, and research papers using online applications.

New technologies make it possible for students to tailor their course schedules, online classes, and brick-and- mortar learning venues to attain targeted degrees. Universities are incorporating MOOCs into curriculums to lower delivery costs while maintaining core certification requirements. Hybrid online/on-campus universities are utilizing instructor time efficiently to eschew duplication of effort.

In terms of higher education administrative practices, author Alan Shark posits in his text The Digital Revolution in Higher Education, “Higher education is on the verge of profound change”.  The rising cost of higher education may be remediated to some extent as universities move to incorporate applications that streamline recruitment and enrollment management operations. Professional development that nurtures implementation of technology is crucial. Shark points to the fact that “…organic cultural changes in the implementation of technology are typically driven by the faculty members themselves” (Shark, 2015).

Universities are tasked with assembling administrative teams and student populations that represent diversity in cultural and ethnic backgrounds as well as gender and age diversity. Lifelong learning is essential to mental and physical health and holds potential as a method to reduce our society’s shared costs of medical care for citizens as they advance in age. Education is the key to creating awareness of healthy lifestyle choices and benefits of exercise and stress reduction. The brain must be continually exercised in advanced years - not just through general reading, crossword puzzles, and other fun mental activities. In order to maintain optimum cognitive function, the mind must be challenged in the way that higher education challenges and builds critical thinking skills (Doidge, 2015).

Technology opens a portal to lifelong learning that will yield immeasurable future value to our democratic way of life. Those of us who highly value technological innovation will help nurture the implementation of new technologies in the service of education.

Doidge, N. (2015). The brain’s way of healing: Remarkable discoveries and recoveries from the frontiers of neuroplasticity. New York, NY: Penguin.
Shark, A. R. (2015). The digital revolution in higher education: How and why the internet of everything is changing everything. Alexandria, VA: Public Technology Institute.